Monday 16 September 2019

Rogers optimistic as he eyes another record in Riga

Dundalk goalkeeper Gary Rogers. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Dundalk goalkeeper Gary Rogers. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Seán Ryan

No one has more incentive for a Dundalk victory in Riga this week, in the Champions League first round second leg tie, than visiting goalkeeper Gary Rogers. His motivation is simple: another round of European football would offer the chance of setting an appearance record for a League of Ireland footballer in European club competition.

On Wednesday, the former Meath Gaelic footballer will join Tipperary's Ollie Cahill at the head of the list on 41 European games, but he doesn't want to stop there. Rogers wants the record all to himself, just like his record of clean sheets in Europe - it stands at 12 after last week's 0-0 draw at Oriel Park, leaving him well clear of his nearest rival.

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Gaelic football was his first love, and he was 19 before he joined a League of Ireland club. "I signed for Shelbourne's Under-19s while I was on Seán Boylan's panel for Meath," he recalled, "and it could have gone either way, but I went to St Francis and played 20 games in the First Division. Up to that I wouldn't have known if I was good enough for the league as I never played top-level schoolboy football.

"From there I went to Drogheda, won the First Division and, after they won the FAI Cup in 2005, I moved to Bray, then Galway, then St Pat's, where we had two great runs in Europe, then on to Sligo, where we won the League, the FAI Cup and the Setanta Cup, before I joined Dundalk."

Rogers was 28 before he made his European debut in 2009. "It was against Valletta in Inchicore and we drew 1-1. Then when we played them away, they had a four o'clock kick-off, (it was) very warm and played on an astro pitch, (they were) looking for every advantage. We went down to 10 men, but Fabio (Declan O'Brien) scored a late winner, and he went on to score in every round that year.

"I would have had quite a good game that day, and I was very busy against the Russian team Krylia Sovetov Samara in the second round. It was very enjoyable."

Since joining Dundalk, his European adventure has really taken off, and he points to their experience in 2016 as an example of what can happen after an apparently disappointing first result. "That season we drew 1-1 at home to FH of Iceland, and only went through on away goals when we drew 2-2 out there, but then we went on a run, which saw us play 12 games in all.

"The result last Wednesday was a good one, and the lads will be full of confidence for the second leg. I'd like to think Riga will come out a bit more at home and that will leave more gaps for us to exploit. I'm very hopeful and all the signs are positive."

In the latter regard, Dundalk were helped by the absence of Riga's top scorer, Felipe Brisola, who was injured while training in Dundalk, and also the fact that Riga had played the previous Sunday, something that will be repeated this week as they face a domestic cup tie today. As a result, the hosts finished stronger but lacked a cutting edge up front. Hopefully, with more space in which to operate, they will rectify that in midweek.

Meanwhile, Shamrock Rovers took advantage of an open game in Brann to earn a 2-2 draw and set up a winner-takes-all scenario, which should attract a full house in Tallaght on Thursday.

The prospects of Cork City or St Patrick's Athletic advancing are bleak, as neither side appears capable of reversing their 2-0 deficits on their travels.

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